Rocky Bastard

Trans Gran Canaria. One of the early season races in The Ultra Trail World Tour Series. I only heard about this race last year when some other people I’d met were heading out to run it. Set in the volcanic island of Gran Canaria, the 128 km race is part of the carnival of events staged over a week. With 7,500m of positive elevation it’s no mean feat. Yet it is sandwiched between the marathon, advanced (65 km) and the monstrous ‘360’ – a 270 km tour of the island. This would be my second UTWT race after my debut at the CCC last year and one which filled me with some pre-race doubts. I felt ready, perhaps not in my desired shape due to the customary lack of structured training I do, but confident of the adventure (I’d focused on shorter runs and lots of step-based training). The build up and the journey to Gran Canaria was fine. Typical in that it involved unnecessary stresses about the little things like packing and registering etc. Pre-race anxiety still overwhelms me greatly.

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Elevation profile

The ‘Weekend’ started Thursday night with a Chinese and a good long sleep. Yvette, Ale, Jorge and Matt all had the marathon at 9am so I woke with them at 5am, ate breakfast and sent them off to get the bus before going back to bed. All fine and I managed a few hours sleep before getting up at midday. I had a whole day to wait hanging around until my start at 23:00.

I walked into town and sampled the atmosphere. Cheering the marathon runners along on the last 2 km as I wandered towards the finish line to catch the gang all finish.

During this time we saw the second finisher of the 360 and someone who’d traveled from Alaska for the marathon race with 5 flights to get here! Earlier that day Luca Papi had won the 360 event and would be lining up in the field to also run the 128 km that night. Crazy (he finished by the way!).

The team all finished strong with Yvette smashing through her race, Ale and Jorge battling sickness and injuries to conquer theirs and Matt speeding through the finish so quickly I didn’t have time to react and take a picture! Great efforts.

Some hours later it was my turn to be sent out of the hotel and onto a bus to the start line. There was something weird about sitting on a bus, driving past the start line and thinking “I’ll see you again in two days, hopefully”. One thing was for sure, I was in for a long adventure! On the bus a gentleman from Beijing sat next two me. His second sentence was “let’s have a photo”. I don’t think he’s used to bearded people. I didn’t see him again.

The bus arrived at 9pm in Las Palmas. 2 hours before the race started. We offloaded from the bus and took the short walk to the beach where we mingled with the music and revelers at carnival. I’d never been to a race start that coincides with a local festival. The novelty soon wore off though. It was crowded. There were no toilets. None. Nothing set out for the race. Public toilets were closed and restaurants I inquired at pointed me in the direction of the closed public WCs. Helpful. Like many, I had to take myself along the coast to the sea.

Then we waited. And waited. For the two hours to slowly pass by. The question everyone had was why were we here so fucking early?! I sat on some steps for almost two hours. Smokers all around me which didn’t help with my pre-race anxieties.

With 15 minutes to go we were allowed onto the beach and into the starting pens. 900+ runners jostling for space. The team found me and wished me well. Final words of encouragement (and instilling of fear) from Jorge who’d previously done the race. He kept telling me how hard it was. He was preparing me and I’m grateful for his insights.

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Yawning at the start

Over the loud speaker the announcements were made, a video played and music began, the live band playing the Gran Canaria by Los Gofiones. The ten second count down was made and the race began to a rapturous roar from the crowd and a synchronised-firework display. We set off running ran along the sandy beach. The waves crashing in and teasing our feet.

Within minutes I had to stop and remove the windproof layer that had kept me so warm for the last two idle hours. My plan was to run in short sleeves and arm warmers (which we’d received a pair of in our running pack). De-layered, I felt good. The sea breeze cooling on my skin.

After the beach we headed inland, first up a relatively small (few hundred meter) incline along a very runnable path. I ran most of it as I’d heard of the inevitable bottle necks that would follow.

Soon after this my memory already started to fade. It was night and dark. My mind was fully alert on the terrain and it was becoming rocky. Very rocky. Hard, sharp, loose rocks. We were running in and out of a river bed which felt like it went on for a long time. I often stopped to walk as others bundled past me at speed. I didn’t feel safe or comfortable running such tracks and knew I had a long run ahead. But it consumed me. I can’t recall seeing beyond the track. It was something like slow, gradual climbs up to remote villages before we hit the first aid station about 10 miles in. Yvette and Jorge were there and I fathed as always with my bottles and food before saying my good byes. I can’t fully remember the next section either. I was already in a grump. I vaguely recall a shortish climb through a forest and hurdling trees that were being cut down. Not technical, but not runnable either. It felt like we ran down through some massive mansion estate of some sort too. I remember stone walls and and a long driveway. But soon I emerged in Teror (the town, not my mental state). I think the section we’d just passed was the diverted track announced on the week of the race. It added a few km to the total distance.

At Teror the team we’re again there and we jigged and danced our way through. In TGC you are allowed external support in the vicinity of the majority of aid stations (Teror isn’t one) as long as it’s not in the actual tent. Before and after is fine. I was beginning to understand how I’d see the team or at least hear them as they shouted and ‘cooed’ endlessly into the dark. I was a little disoriented and despite studying the route and elevation I had no idea where I was. I’d continually ask which station this was and moan that the track “wasn’t very nice” (I wasn’t so articulated at the time!).

Beyond Teror the real elevation began. I remember one muddy-clay like climb through the dense forest which I took my poles out for. I blasted past runners as we climbed and was then blasted past in return as we went back down. The downhills were steep and rocky. Not loose like the riverbed thankfully. This would be one of the things I’d come to notice about the race – it’s very runnable. Over such a long distance I can’t run that far. And much of the terrain, as painful as the rocks are, is very runnable indeed. Especially when momentum takes control.

At some point along the way I passed another check point where Yvette and Jorge were waiting outside once I’d emerged from some minor DIY repairs. My left nipple was sore and my shoes were filled with sticks and stones. Whilst other runners fueled on warm coffee I patched up and got re organised. You quickly learn in ultras not to dwell on pains and discomforts but to sort them ASAP! I set off back into the night.

The darkness was full of depth and I also noticed the almost eerie atmosphere of the mountains at night, it was warm (some 14 degrees or so) but deadly silent. No wind. No insects. No animals. Just the noise of runners feet cracking on the forest floor and occasional burps and farts breaking the silence. It also smelt good (ignoring the farts) the foliage had some incredible smells which I cannot justifiably describe.

Off in the distance the silence was broken by the sound of drums. Faint at first but louder as I closed in on the source. Boom. Boom. Boom. Like a war drum pounding repeatedly. As I skipped down a small track I could see the origin up ahead. A band of drummers had lined either side of the path at the base of a climb. A steep bastard of a climb! I’m undecided if it was evil or pure genius that they chose this path and welcomed us like slaves pitted up against an almighty gladiator ahead. I charged forward. Power hiking up. I was enjoying the hills. I felt strong walking them and was boosted by passing runners who appeared less strong than me. It Became my tactic. Run when I could. Walk the rocky bastard parts (of which there were many) and annihilate the inclines. I began to look forward to them.

Next checkpoint up we emerged into a small roadside checkpoint by a reservoir. It was early morning, perhaps about 6am. It was a little cold at this spot and the checkpoint quieter than the rest. Whilst I’d not really suffered any real bottlenecks, the field was definitely starting to spread out. All I was interested in though was my stomach. I needed the toilet. I could feel the rumbles beginning. Your body is on a different cycle at night, eating and exercise disrupts it. Not a single aid station had any toilets. Just like the start, this was the only real negative aspect to the race organisation. Get some bloody toilets in!

Jorge sent me off with instructions as to what I’d encounter next. A long steep climb onto a ridge-way with cliff drops either side. Don’t fall in the dark he joked. I soon understood he wasn’t joking as two black holes of danger lay either side as we climbed. It was quite spectacular in the dark to see even more depth to the night. Along the top we followed a wall protecting you from the drop. I was tempted to climb over and use the wall as support to relieve myself but thought better of it.

We emerged into a road section before hitting a very steep technical down hill section. Almost immediately afterwards we’d climb again. As the path winded back up I could see off to the distance the snake of headlights descending behind us. It was mesmerising. White lights to the back, red (rear) lights up ahead. We were in a valley of some sort. I tried to capture it on my phone but again I can’t do the memory justice.

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Head torches as far as the eye can see

As we started to reach the summit dawn was breaking. The sun was rising and light was finally becoming our friend. It warmed up very quickly. We carried further up through forests and with the light of the morning finally got to see our surroundings. Wow. It was breathtaking. Layers of mountains as far as the eye can see. Each silhouetted by the one behind it. Off in the distance some strange peak formations were particularly fascinating.

We were approaching the half way mark. 65 km. Two things came to mind, firstly that the Advanced race would soon be starting (9am) and we’d be joined by another 900 or so runners. I saw only one positive to this. I’d maybe see Arlene and Julia on the trails. However, whether I timed it before or after 9am I’d be caught up in that race. Get there before they start and I’d have fast and fresh runners up my arse and pushing me faster than I’d like. Get there just after 9am and I might get caught up in the inevitable stampede and bottle necks. Lose-lose. Thankfully though neither happened. As we ran down and through the fields into the town we were greeted by volunteer staff who directed us into an aid station just before the 65 km mark. Here we were welcomed to hot food and refreshments. I decided to spend sometime here. I’d eat the pasta (I’d not been eating as much as I should have) and prep for the daytime running – recharge my watch, change my head torch and buff for a sun cap and glasses and plaster myself in sun cream. Best of all, there was a toilet. And I got the last of the toilet role. I felt like a winner. I headed off replenished and ready for the day.

The second thing that hit me at this point was that I still had a fucking long way to go. I was half way there. I still had a 65km mountain ultra to complete. I’d been running for 10-11 hours. I was tired and cranky. It was still a marathon and a half to go!! For fucksake. But, as Tomasz (who I chatted with over pasta) put it “I’m not feeling fucked enough yet”. Wise words.

Leaving the town of Artenara was another climb. And more treats for the eyes. I was constantly stopping to take photos as we climbed through forests and along more mountains tops. I wasn’t alone and as I’d interchange places with Martin from the US we’d point out good photo opportunities for each other. The strange rock formations were getting closer and more prominent.

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Roque Nublo in the distance

I found the morning tough. I hadn’t seen the team since about 6am and as I made my way to Tejeda I was looking forward to when I might see them again. Alone with my thoughts my mind was constantly drawn to my left foot and ankle which had been hurting throughout. I was also constantly thirsty and breathing heavily. Despite making great progress I was certainly feeling how tough it was. I think the pasta kicked in though and the relieved stomach had settled. I found myself in a rhythm and had a solid stint of running before flagging as we reached Tejeda. The checkpoint felt like it took an age to appear after I first encountered the signs for the village. Upon arrival though I fueled on fists full of oranges (oranges had been my go to at checkpoints so far this race!) and, as it was just over half way, I decided now I could treat myself to cola. Always a runners friend on an ultra. I didn’t want to indulge too soon and it sure was good. As it approached midday it was sweltering. When I left Tejeda, I walked. We were on a paved road section that was downhill. I knew the next climb was one of the hardest, to Roque Nublo (the rock formations I’d been taking pictures of previously in the day). I couldn’t give a shit about running at this point. Some people passed me. I was fine with that. I’d found a strong hiking pace through the night and was able to maintain this comfortably between 14/15 min miles (when I ‘ran’ I was only marginally faster at 11/12 min miles) so I wasn’t fussed. That is until three men ran passed tethered to a metal pole. A lead and back runner guiding a blind man. As incredible as this was, I didn’t want to be stuck behind them on the climb. So I stepped it up.

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Layer upon layer of mountain

Early into the climb I bumped into Victoria, a friend of Yvette’s doing the Advanced. We chatted briefly before my power hike took me forward. The climb was indeed a painful one. But as we reached the summit we were treated to the panoramic views from the popular tourist spot Roque Nublo. Throughout the run I’d been near another runner called Luis. I’d pass him on the ups and he would pass me on the downs. He didn’t speak very much English and me ‘speaker de no Spanish’. But we’d exchange back slaps as we passed. I like this unspoken camaraderie of the trails. It’s special. It’s an acknowledgment to each other’s strengths. No words are needed. As we summited he tried to explain the route. We’d go up to the rock and be checked in before doubling back and heading down a different way. He also insisted on taking a photo for me. I liked Luis. I didn’t get to see him again much more after this as he made too much ground up on the downhills. And this was my concern for the last marathon – as we reach Garañón where the marathon started the route was predominantly ‘downhill’ (as in comparative elevation gain in relation to the rest of the course). The majority of the races elevation is done in the first 80 km of the event. And I was discovering today that my downhills were weak. I’d readied myself mentally. I was planning now to walk the majority of the marathon remaining. I was so far ahead of my estimated time of 27 hours. I was starting to believe I could finish on Saturday before midnight. At a push, if I stayed focused and had no incidents maybe even a sub 24 hour. I cracked on.

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Roque Noblo

I thought I might see the team at Roque Nublo as they’d planned to hike it themselves. But timings would have been tight and Garañón was the planned bag drop. Coming into Garañón I was greeted to the beaming smiles of Yvette and Jorge. I hadn’t seen them for about 8 hours. It didn’t show, but I was so glad to see them.

I had a plan here. Collect my bag. Change my clothes. Eat some food and prepare my kit for the rest of the day and night. Then leave what I didn’t need behind (or rather with the team to save me having to walk to get it at the end!). And that’s exactly how it went down. For food a bowl of potatoes with salt. Butter would have been great but they were delicious. Wet wipe wash, clean T-shirt and buff. Again I emptied my shoes of crap but I also decided against changing my socks. My feet felt OK and I was also afraid to look at them incase something was worse than it felt. I was wearing Stance 360 socks and I’ve found these great for doing ultras. I re-applied sun cream (you don’t want to compromise a race due to being unprepared!) and removed many things from my back (extra night layers etc I hadn’t needed). And I re-stocked on my holy grail – Tailwind. Pre-race I’d measured out 18 servings of Tailwind into either soft flasks or travel bottles to mix with water on the go. This worked a treat and was so quick to take one of the bottles of powder out and empty into water at an aid station. I took 9 with me on the start and had 9 here waiting. Whilst it was slightly less than the desired amount for the race, I intended on eating along the way too as I like the taste of food and thankfully I don’t struggle with eating on the move. I made a slight mistake though and should have taken a few more initially as it wasn’t a 50-50 split for distance or time to Garañón. The last 10 miles I’d done with out Tailwind and I was missing the taste. I was craving my hit like a junkie!

After again chatting with Tomasz over potatoes I was back out and reassured by Jorge and Yvette. They’d run this part as their marathon yesterday so again debriefed me on what was to come. As I mentioned, mostly down hill with two climbs although nothing compared to what went before and then finally the dreaded finish along another river bed.

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The first of the climbs was gradual but long. Through forest paths and looping around the mountain. Here I saw many runners, familiar faces and new. Also many people looking defeated by the run. I’d pass them and check. One guy, Brian, suffered from stomach issues but reassured me he was OK (and had done the race last year) and many others asked the same question – “how far to the next aid station”. Good question. I was wondering the same. It felt like we’d be climbing for a very long time of false summit after false summit. I’d drunk nearly all my water including my third spare flask which I’d carried since the start. I was trying to calculate my estimated finish. Earlier in the day I’d figured a 4 hour half marathon (to Garañón) and an 8 hour marathon to the finish would see me make it in 24 hours. I couldn’t remember what time I left Garañón but now had less than 7 hours before 23:00. I wanted it. I also wanted to go to bed and to stop. I was fed up of the terrain now. Whilst I hadn’t fallen. My feet were beginning to hurt. I was walking as I had been for the last hour or so. 7 more hours of walking was a long time to contemplate.

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Eventually the aid station appeared. It was small but I found a chair and quickly emptied my shoes of stones again. I didn’t plan on staying here long but I was starting to chaff and I wanted to make sure I had more than enough water after that last stint. I’d kept and empty fourth flask after Garañón so I decided to fill them all. I prepped all the Tailwind and a lovely volunteer helped me film them all. He was lovely that is until he got a little mud on the bottle and decided to empty the entire Tailwind filled goodness onto the floor to wash it. I wanted to hurt him. Hurt him bad. He wasn’t to know. I didn’t say anything. I thought some evil things in that moment though. I thanked him and left. As I was leaving the familiar sound of Arlene called out. She was entering the station above me and shouted me on rather than wait. I don’t know how or where I ended up ahead of here?!

The next section was also runnable. I didn’t want to run it but it was downhill and the rocks weren’t too loose. I stayed inline with the crowds and again played leapfrog with various people as I powered past on the inclines and they floated past me on the downhills. Eventually I found a second (third? Forth? Firth?) wind when two faster runners ploughed through. Together they had momentum and I could see them easily alert runners ahead of them who granted them passage past. I piggy-backed in behind them. Tailgating and running several kms with them and a comfortable pace. I was still doing the math. Badly. But I calculated I needed a few stints of running to get me in before Sunday came. After a while they stopped. But I was in the zone and carried on for a little longer before emerging onto another road section.

Walking again we were on another climb. I think I’d been confused as this definitely wasn’t the last climb I’d face. With the late evening sun pounding my skin I hiked onwards as we gradually climbed a fairly smooth and wide path. Up ahead I spotted the welsh dragon on a lady’s t shirt and I spent a while chatting to her and a fellow welsh woman she’s met on The trail. She joked about making it in time for the rugby. Eventually we reached the top and another downhill began. This one was a bastard. I really didn’t enjoy it. A very man-made winding switchback of slippery cobble stones. I don’t know how long it went for but I really didn’t like it. I couldn’t Run it. I was afraid of slipping. It hurt my feet. It was steep and the bends sharp. Gravity forced me to walk faster than I liked. I was glad when it ended. Other than that it opened out onto what I can only describe as what I perceive Mars to be like. A completely alien terrain of hard sharp rocks and dry ground. The torturous terrain of Trans Gran Canaria was relentless!

It didn’t stop there either. We came across a sign that very reassuringly said “extreme precaution. Technical Section”. It didn’t fail to live up to the hype. It was almost vertical. Very short switchbacks of jagged rocks and barley wide enough for a single person. We backed up into a slow descent. A short intersection with another path treated us to the information that it was just 1.5 km to the next aid station. 1.5 km of the same technical descent. My feet were taking a pounding now. I craved the rest bite.

At the aid station I ate cheese. It was good. I also took the decision to, for the final time, readjust my kit. It was now about 18:99 – 19:00. Soon the sun would set so I wanted to be ready. Away went the hat and sunglasses. Outcome the buff, head torch (new battery!) and arm warmers. Deja vu all over again. From here it was the last climb. About 200m followed by a downhill to the riverbed back into Maspalomas.

The climb was slow. I was still calculating my time. I couldn’t figure it out but I was now confident I’d get sub 24 hours. My mind focused on getting to the last 15 km with 3 hours to go. That would be 9 miles. 3 miles an hour. 20 min miles at a comfortable walking pace. I was still hiking at close to 15 min miles. I was confident. I strode on. Up the dirt track road we went. The night began to fall and I enjoyed watching the sun set. The same day I’d welcomed on one mountain I now said goodbye to on another. I captured the snake of headlights coming down the technical section back in the distance and was thankful I navigated that in the day light. My thoughts went with those doing it at night. The only negative point here was a staff volunteer driving up and down the climb, churning up the dust into our faces for us to inhale. I don’t know why he was doing it. Perhaps to check on the runners?!

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Night setting in, head torches in the distance

As we summited the final climb it was time for another run. Initially the path was wide for cars and smooth to run before it became rocky again but not loose. For the second time I found myself tailgating two other runners. I set my aim to run to the bottom and the beginning of the river bed. Then my task would be complete. My false finish. From there I know I’d get to the end. No time pressures. I’d complete the event for sure.

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It was dark when I ran this at night, so here’s a picture from during the marathon

The riverbed came. They carried on. I stopped running. I probably stopped a lot of things at this point but swearing was not one of them. The riverbed was the rocky bastard I’d read about. Dry, sharp loose rocks. It’s not an over exaggeration to say I was afraid again to break an ankle or slit my throat on a fall. I walked. Painfully stepping and sliding like trudging through mud. I swore out loud a lot. But I maintained my pace. I passed a lot of people with my power hike. Occasional they’d run past when we’d have a moments pause from death by a thousand rocks but I’d soon pass them again when they slowed to a walk.

It was dark. My feet were blistered for sure. I was constantly kicking rocks into my own ankles. Fuck it hurt bad I was lonely. I was cranky. The night was again spectacular as the riverbed was overlooked either side by rocky mountain faces. Off in the distance they merged and I longed for the opening back to reality. Eventually it came. I hadn’t passed any signs of the distance markers. I hoped I was near 5 km to go. I hated them when I first spotted “105 km to the finish” and “95 km to the finish”. Now I longed for that last confirmation. My time was good. I was walking back no matter what.

Under the motorway bridge up in the distance two silhouettes were making noise. Calling for me as they had the previous night. I knew it was Yvette and Jorge. I could hear them question and laugh as they thought it wasn’t me. The penny soon dropped and they came in to cheer me on. To the final stretch. I was super cranky at this point. I wanted for nothing except more solitude and the finish. I wasn’t capable of dealing with anything and I abruptly made this clear with unintentional rudeness. My mind had wandered to some dark places over the last 22 hours. Possibly some more places of self discovery also. I wasn’t ready to re-emerge to reality just yet. I still had a lot to deal with and get through.

One more checkpoint. Parque Sur. It seemed weird to have one so close to the finish but also one I was quite thankful for. Some more cola and sweets. I politely declined a beer and begrudgingly trod on. Down an old river bed again (although rocky not loose and nice and wide). The final stretch was a slight uphill along the road I’d walked and cheered the marathoners along on Friday. I’d already spotted that day the grass patch to the side of the road I’d walk. It was like carpet under my feet. I felt smug as runners ran past me. I was getting overtaken frequently since the last checkpoint and I couldn’t give a shit. I’d won my race. I’d smashed my goal of completion. I may not have been smiling but was pleased with myself.

I had two roundabouts to go. Then the last bend Into the finishing straight. I looked at my watch for the first time in ages. It said it was 21:55. A new goal came to my mind. 5 minutes to make a sub 23 hour??! The few stretches of running and tailgating had really paid off (along with my overly conservative 20 min/mile walk estimates). My mind fired up. The quickest I’d reacted to anything for a whole day – my brain and my body connected and agreed we were going for it. I left the grass. It was on. Uphill. Momentum began to kick in. I don’t know how far it was. It looked longer than 5 minutes. There was only one way to find out. Nothing to gain other than personal satisfaction. I powered forward. Photo-finish ready. I wasn’t going to finish looking like I’d just walked a 7 hour marathon or run 128 km. I was going to finish with the smile that had been missing for so long. The cheers and the whoops came. All The team were there including the “Aguafiestas” Ale and Matt. This was my moment. The high fives came as I rounded the final bend into the finishing straight. I lined up with the little sloped finishing platform. The sadistic bastards. I hit it and finished up on my toes instantly striking the pose of the ‘trans Gran Canaria’ logo. I don’t know where that came from. I wasn’t the first nor the last to strike the pose I’m sure.

As I stepped down from the finish some child slapped the finishers medal into my stomach and a lady gave me the gilet. Cola and kebabs were consumed and sweaty hugs enjoyed with the team. Now we all had a gilet for our efforts. I immediately reverted back to grumpy Dai and my legs made it clear how much they hated me. I wanted ice cream but they were closed. I wanted a shower so they drove me home.

The next day we walked some sand dunes and the reality of the damage to my body started to became clear. My ankle is swollen and hurts badly. My feet are blistered and battered. I say we walked some sand dunes. I hobbled them. Flying home I, like many others, partook in the unspoken custom of wearing the finishers gilet through the airport. You nod in silent appreciation to other finishers. You know what we’ve each been through. One final acknowledgement before it becomes another generic piece of apparel in the reality of the real world.

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The Bling

If you spoke to me in the hours after the race then you’ll have received a certain miserable perspective on the event. That was unjustified. I stand by what I said in that, to date, it’s the hardest thing either done. But as the emotion of the finish has settled I’ve been able to reflect on and recall the positive and enjoyable aspects. Yes it really is hard. The distance was new for me and mentally I felt that. For 2/3 of the event knowingly having an ‘ultra’ still to go was demotivating and the pounding your feet take is exceptionally aggressive. But, the landscape and environment is surreal. The Rocky Mountains, Mars like terrain, panoramic island views, fresh aromas of of the forests and witnessing a day break and set from spectacular view points is incredible.

The organisation itself was also fantastic. Before flying out I moaned about the lack of information on the website or email contact. Reality is you’re provided with enough. And that is all you need. The race exhibition and bib collection was so straightforward. No kit checks or too much hassle. The organised buses were efficient. The aid stations were incredibly well stocked and had great atmospheres. The volunteers were superb and so helpful (to the guy who emptied my Tailwind – I’m sorry I thought about hurting you. But this doesn’t mean I like you!). The course markings were phenomenal. There’s no chance of getting lost in this one. Signs and markings were very frequent (even though you rarely turned off the same paths!). Many had hi visibility strips attached to them and there were hundreds if not thousands of markings with flashing red lights too. I played a game at several points along the day and came to the assessment that, when walking slowly (e.g. hiking up a climb pace) there were typical signs/markings every 15 seconds. Without doubt the best course markings I’ve encountered. The swag bag of goodies was also decent. A branded technical compression t shirt, arm warmers, shoe gaiters and finishers Gilet filled the drawstring bag.

Would I recommend the race? I’m not sure. It is incredibly hard. If I’d done the marathon or advanced I definitely wouldn’t be going back to try the 128 km. I did enjoy it though and am glad I experienced it.

I’m also so thankful for Yvette, Jorge, Ale and Matt who sacrificed so much this weekend to support me. One day I’ll be able to repay the kindness.

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Inevitable “Trans Gran” pose

The Doubts

Fears, queries, questions, what-ifs, buts, worries and the voices. These are all manifestations of “the doubts”. As an event or milestone creeps closer, the doubts increase. They aren’t always rational, but they are all explainable. It’s a nervous thing. Fuelled by anxiety. Fuelled by the determination to succeed, to reach the finish and achieve your goals.

The voices in your head will call out the same ‘what-ifs’ over and over, but you deal with it. You just have to. In the same way I process the bad times during an ultra, I face the doubts head on. For each question, each doubt, there’s at least one answer and reassurance. There’s nothing to really fear here.

With my biggest challenge to date, Trans Gran Canaria, inching closer like an ultra runner hobbling to the finish line, my mind is in overdrive. The doubts are coming thick and fast. Here’s a few I’m currently battling.

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Visualise and address the doubts
  • I’ve never done this before” – you’ve can say that about a lot of things you’ve never done before. Time to set some new limits, bust through that ceiling, reset the boundaries and find a new comfort zone to live in.
  • “But it’s 128km! That’s a LOT further than I’ve run before” – You’ll break it up by checkpoint and hike a lot. Get so far through and the kms will be reducing. After a 100km you’re on the home stretch. Remember you’re running home in this one!
  • What if I can’t make the cut offs” – Of course you can. You know the average pace needed and have run similar paces to this before. You know how to pace it across a long distance and elevation. Quit worrying.
  • I’m going to get stressy and anxious” – You always do. Stick to the plan. Get through registration and get your bib. Relax. Get to the start and get moving. Relax. Once those two things are done you are running free.
  • Can I stay awake to run through two nights” – You’ll be tired at night for sure, but you’ve run for 21 hours before, It’s not that much longer. You’ll sleep on Friday before you start. You’ve run lots of night runs. You’re not I’ll-prepared, you’ve trained, you’ll have caffeine. You can rest at Garañón if all else fails. Or find a Chäir.
  • What if I get lost” – Always a risk. Never a real worry though, you’ll have gpx. There are 900 runners. There are aid stations every ten miles or so. You can’t get that lost surely. Just don’t switch off.
  • I’m going to get sun burnt” – you’ll have sun cream and a long sleeve base layer. Just don’t be a dick and forget to use them.
  • I’ve heard the terrain is hard” – Yep, we’ve been told repeatedly that it’s tough. And it will be tough! But you will walk when you need to. Don’t run. Trust your gut. Don’t panic.
  • I’ll need to poo” – of course you will. Poop you shall. Enjoy the sweet release.
  • I’ll be lonely” – You like your own company. You can entertain yourself. So do so and have fun.
  • How much do I need to eat” – as much as you want too. 200 cals per hour is the rough guide. Keeping that going for 30 hours means a lot of food. So just keep eating and enjoy the picnic! There will be plenty of good stuff available at the checkpoints. to enjoy and top up the Tailwind.
  • My foot still feels weird, feels like it’s someone else’s” – well it’s not though is it?!

This won’t be the end. I’ll have to answer many more questions in the lead up. I’ll also have to keep answering the same questions as my mind attempts to fluster me. I won’t let it happen. When the doubts come calling for you, stay strong. Stay rational. Whatever other questions come up, give them the time they deserve just don’t ignore them. Deal with them and be rational and you’ll be just fine.

Beyond the Ad

If you go anywhere near social media platforms like Instagram at the moment you’ll see lots of similar themed posts relating to advertisements. The Advertising Standards Authority recently updated guidance on ‘social influencers’ and its caused a wee bit of a stir among the community. I’ve observed it manifest in a number of different ‘types’ of outlooks and perspectives…

  • There’s people who just don’t care, they’ll carry on doing what they do regardless and without remorse or recompense.
  • There’s people who will follow the guidance to the letter, for better or for worse, without consideration. A tick box exercise if you like.
  • There’s people who will moan about the negativity it drives and how unfair it is on them as an influencer ignoring the impact it has on their ‘followers’?!
  • There’s people who might not be affected but who will call it out at every opportunity, pointing the finger at those influencers and their responsibilities to the world
  • There’s then the people who will go all out honesty and transparency and over-tag and over share every snippet of their lives like they are taking a morale high-ground.
  • There’s people who will back track and justify all their relationships they’ve ever made with statements akin to “I’ve worn this brand since the day I was popped out of my mummy’s tummy”
  • There’s also people who will feel they have to do the opposite and justify their opinions and say “this is not an ad!”. You don’t need to do that!
  • Even people who will simply take the piss at every opportunity.

Me? I do a little of each. Quite frankly, I’m not concerned. I’ll abide by the rules where I should and also where I feel morally obliged too. I also feel as individuals we need to take responsibly and ownership for our own thoughts and decisions. Yes, we can all be swayed by advertisements and influencers, but you make that decision yourself. Stand up and be accountable for your own actions.

Anyway, I’m not tapping away at my keyboard for this reason. That is more a background check and observation. What I wanted to do is flip it around and look at it from a different perspective. A more positive view. Whatever industry we are active in, when presented with an opportunity we make a decision as to whether we want to take it or not. Whether it is right or wrong for us. There will be many things that we take into consideration when making such decisions but it is, as always, a cost-benefit analysis. What is in it for us (value)? What do we have to to achieve that value (cost)? Do we think the benefits outweigh the analysis? Done. Simple.

Whilst (in this context) this will mostly materialise in an incentive (e.g. payment, gifted items, brand enhancement etc.) vs effort (time taken, contractual commitments etc.) considerations, there are other ways we might approach this too, such as meaningful connections vs reputational damage/negative public opinion (I’m sure you’ve read about recent backlashes like the Fyre Festival or Celebrities promoting ‘get fit quick’ type ‘health’ products).

Specifically it is that “meaningful connection” aspect I want to touch on. Something which is often overlooked and something which I feel I’ve substantially benefited from in a number of my recent opportunities.

Take my recent run with Gabe as an example. This was born out of an incentivised campaign to promote the MyCrew App. A simple advertisement concept. I use it, I publicise that I’m using it. If I meet a certain quota (e.g. frequency of runs, number of attendees etc.) then I’d be eligible for some gifted items. This is very much the ‘carrot’ in the ‘carrot and stick’ analogy. I can tell you now that, for whatever reasons of my own doing, I immediately failed to meet the necessary criteria, so the carrot is gone. It hasn’t stopped me being active in the campaign though. Why? Because of the meaningful connections. I’ve met a few runners through this opportunity whom I could talk about, but recently met Gabe who is on the other side of the campaign working within the community. This one got me thinking…

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The man, the legend that is Gabe!

It was one of those meetings were conversation flowed. Natural commonalities were apparent and we got on. We shared experiences and stories and we debated pros and cons of all things related to the running community. To me it is clear we think similarly, we process thoughts, data and ideas in the same way to make them a reality. Our professional backgrounds also reflect this and the type of work we do. It was more than just a run. More than just an opportunistic moment of mutual benefit. It was certainly a means to connect with someone who otherwise we might not have crossed paths with. One I’m sure won’t stop here. It was two people with a shared interest and a shared passion spit balling ideas and theories.

I’m mumbling now but I know what it means to me. I think my point is to look beyond the posts, the cover story, the potential negative image and press and to think and appreciate about what else is achieved from making new connections and where they might add real ‘value’ to your life. Likewise, just because something is an Ad or a sponsored post, it doesn’t imply that it isn’t meaningful…

Country to Capital

It’s only just 2 weeks into the new year and my first Ultra of 2019 is ticked off. This is a great feeling. The year is looking just a little bit daunting, so to get it underway and emerge through the first finish line is pleasing.

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The medal is a piece of art!

Over Christmas I was worried. More than I’ve been since I started running. I’ve had a few niggles over the last year and you know what your body is feeling. This niggle felt a different, it concerned me. I know when it happened. I don’t know what happened or what it is though. During the night run a few weeks before Christmas the top of my foot hurt. It hurt as I stepped off the train, before we even started running. It felt like my laces were too tight but loosening didn’t help (neither did running the 24 miles, I know!). The pain intensified and persisted for a few days and a lump appeared. So I was concerned.

It woke me up for the first time and I swallowed my stubbornness and went and saw a physio. The prognosis was good, ankle movement was as expected and I was set some rehab and stability exercises and prescribed some rest. Always some rest. That is the difficult part right?! Over the Christmas period I continued to dwell on the pain and with the Trans Gran Canaria race looming in the distance I was thinking of pulling out of the Country to Capital. 70km felt like it could put my year at risk before I even began.

But, I didn’t. I’ve been stubborn as always and after a follow up with the physio and a check up with the GP (who confirmed the lump is a small Ganglion cyst, but nothing to worry about) I stuck by my original plan. So to the race I went.

This is quite a popular event. There aren’t that many ultras in the first few weeks of January, especially not ones so accessible from London. An ultra at the beginning of January is a test. A checkup if you like. To see where you are at and what your body is saying after Christmas. Many runners use this event as ‘tune up’ (as Alan describes it) for what is to come. So that became my aim too.

With an early start and a rush from the first train from London to Wendover, I decided to stay overnight in Stoke Mandeville. I’m glad I did. I woke relaxed and at eased and casually made my way to registration with plenty of time to do all the mandatory registration activities without any stress.

I met with Alan, Lenny and a few of their mates and the race Director sent us on our way. There was a mad dash at the start as the runners legged it down the high street to get the front line at the single track paths. And that there is where the majority of my memories of this event comes to an end. It is, as events go, pretty unspectacular. We cover a lot of ground (45 miles!), but it is mostly forgettable. True, the start near Wendover Woods is quite scenic, but as soon as you get inside the M25 it is a grotty run. 30 plus kilometres along the Grand Union Canal towpath, it sounds good, but it is ugly. Flat. Hard. Narrow. Covered in more litter and abandoned rubbish than you can imagine. I’m not talking about the odd bit of crap here and there, in places it was piled with bonfire sized heaps of rubbish. London has a problem here it needs to address! Such as historic part of the country in such a sad state.

Anyway, that’s off my chest. What do I remember?

A few rolling hills to start with provided some early morning treats to the eye. The first 15 or so miles were a breeze with some walking up the inclines and crowds of runners to chat away too and enjoy. Shortly after the second checkpoint, with conversations of the morning often revolving around the recent UTMB ballot results, I got chatting to Sophie. Sophie had quite a remarkable experience at UTMB this year which really puts all the preparation and stress of the events into perspective. There’s a lot of discussion around changes required to events as a result and hopefully we will see those much needed changes come sooner rather than later.

As we chatted, Sophie pointed out how fast we were running. What finish time this equated too. I knew I was ahead of the pace I’d set out for. I knew I’d gone off too quickly. I was feeling OK though so was rolling with it. Sophie gave me a reality check. I stuck with it and carried on, telling myself “as long as it feels good”.

I started to make deals with myself. First off, get to checkpoint 3. This would be roughly a marathon in, after which it was the towpath all the way to the finish. I’d have a moment at the checkpoint and update Alan and the others on my progress (we’d be meeting in the pub later in the day). Checkpoint 3 came about so quickly. Quicker than I expected. One of the volunteers did acknowledge it was now the afternoon, so I’d done the marathon in around 4 hours.

Onward along the canal we went. The field did start to spread out now and no doubt a lot of us were starting to feel the aches in the legs. The route had no signage or markings but I did have the GPX on my watch. I was on the towpath, I didn’t need it though right? Wrong! I was constantly following the runners in the distance and at one point, after heading after a runner I soon heard some screaming behind us. It took a moment but the caller was persistent. I’m so glad he was as we had missed a turning off the canal path onto another. If we had continued, we would have ended up in Brentford! Thankfully I was able to back track and recover and thank the runner. The could have been very costly!

I negotiated the next set of deals with myself. First off, get to the forth checkpoint. I was hopeful it wasn’t too far away. And it soon arrived. To my surprise the volunteers confirmed there were just 10 miles to go (I’d been estimating closer to 13 miles left) and the final checkpoint was only 4 miles away. This lifted me. I decided to walk for a moment and eat some more food, then I’d run what was left of the 4 miles. I could do that. That was a very process-able distance.

The next deal would be when I get to the final checkpoint I’d start a walk-run strategy. I’d been checking my average pace for the last few miles an I knew a strong finish (somewhere under 8 hours) was on the cards. I probable could have run the last 6 miles but there was nothing in it for me to do so. I came up with the plan to walk 0.25 miles, run 2 miles and repeat. This would make the last 6 miles so much more manageable and I felt I’d walked very little other than the few short inclines early on in the run.

After leaving the last checkpoint, a few miles from the finish I saw a familiar face. I recognised it smiling out at the runners. I couldn’t place it though. We had a Hi-five. Then it clicked. Rowan called out my name and it all made sense. We’ve known each other through Instagram yet never met, somehow avoiding each other in the 20 plus group that was out in Berlin together.  Rowan snapped the only picture I have of the day, we had a hug and I was back on my way. The last few miles went down exactly as per the deal, I was blocking out the crap littered tow path until Little Venice came upon me so quickly.

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Rowan’s camera snapping the only photo from the day!

The finish was an understatement. A subtle welcome, medal and a cuppa doesn’t do the brutality of the race justice. The Country to capital is not an easy run. I don’t think any flat runs are. It gives me great awe thinking about those runners who take on events like the Thames 100. It must be so hard on the body. Don’t go entering the Country to Capital because you think it is an easy race, it really isn’t!

It’s the day after the run and I feel surprisingly good. I’m thinking and checking over my body and I’m feeling very happy. There’s things I know I need to work on and things I need to improve, but after a tough run I expected to be in pain in a few places. The worst is my ribs and abs. I know I’ve run hard when they ache! The foot? The foot feels fine. Now back to those rehab and stability exercises.

Trail Run – Sat 29th December

Update: The run is LIVE on the MyCrew app. Download it here MyCrew and look for the run to get easy access to updates and find out who else is joining.

Ok, so here it is Saturday 29th December – a Trail run around Three Bridges. Who wants to join?

 

 

This time last year I met a bunch of trail runners. A collective of like minded individuals who share a passion for running, trails and enjoying nature. They welcomed me into their open group and took me on many adventures over the year. I want you to experience this too. So, come and join the Cool Cats (check them out on Facebook and the ‘gram!) as we head to Three Bridges to get one last muddy trail run in before the New Year comes…

Details are below, but get in touch with me directly and I’ll make sure you are added to the group and kept up to date with the plans. Expect cold and wet weather with mud and plenty of great company. We run together, to enjoy each other’s company and share the trails (there will be plenty of opportunity to take pictures along the way). We’ll probably be floating around the 7.30min/km (just under 12min/mile) pace on average.

The route

The route will be a ~37km loop from Three Bridges, Starting and ending in Three Bridges Station. We will initially run down towards Balcombe station where you can opt to join the group there and do a shorter route (approximately 20km) as we head back up to Three Bridges. The longer route will have a few hills and a total elevation gain of about 500m.

Both routes are available on my Strava page (links below) where you can download the GPX/TCX files if you want to.

Both routes are mainly trail but will involve a few road sections.

The Long Route (36km)

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https://www.strava.com/routes/16464579

 

The shorter Route (~20km (to the pub!))

Trail Run 18km

https://www.strava.com/routes/16314420

 

The Where

  • Three Bridges Train Station
Three Bridges Station
We’ll start from the station
  • If you are joining for the shorter route, meet at the Half Moon Pub, a short walk from Balcombe Station
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Wait at the pub for us to arrive

 

 

The When

Saturday 29th December.

  • Meet for 08:45 to start running at 09:00am from outside the station (Three Bridges)
  • If joining for the Shorter Route, be at the Half Moon Pub for 11:00am (you may need to wait a little while but I will provide updates to those joining)

How to Get there

From Central London:

  • Either Train from London Bridge (08:07am) / Blackfriars (07:59am). Or join from another station along the way. Get off at Three Bridges (or Balcombe if joining for the shorter route, get a later train though!)

From anywhere else:

  • No idea! You’ll have to figure that out for yourself!!

The Pub:

  • We’ll head to the Hillside Inn afterwards. Passing Three Bridges station again on the way. Address is Balcombe Road, Crawley RH10 7SX

 

Your responsibilities

  • Get there on time! We will start running at 09:00. That means you need to be there before 09:00! Please don’t make everyone else late. Likewise if you are joining at Balcombe, we’ll come and find you but won’t be hanging around if you are not there on time!
  • Whilst this isn’t an organised event and there is no mandatory kit, be sensible! Bring what you need. It is advisable to:
    • bring enough water for the whole journey (there are no planned water stops along the route),
    • bring food to eat and keep you fuelled (we’ll be running for hours!),
    • its December so bring warm clothes and something to keep you protected from the rain,
    • Something warm and dry (inc dry socks!) for afterwards too!
    • Any medical supplies you need!
    • Expect mud, Trail shoes are advised!
  • If you feel unwell or have an injury, tell someone. Don’t be afraid to speak to us, so we can help you!
  • Please make sure you are capable of doing the whole distance comfortably. Whilst we will stick together as a group, we aren’t set up to split into different groups. We will be running and not hiking!
  • This is not a race nor a guided trail run! It is a social/group run. There are no pacers or leaders. We will run together at a pace suitable for everyone. If you want to go faster it is your responsibility not to get lost, to come back to the group or to wait and regroup. It is not other people’s responsibility to keep pace with you! Leave your training plans and times at home!

So if you are interested in joining, get in touch here or via Instagram to let me know (If I don’t know you are coming, I can’t plan for you!)

A sneak peak of what is in store for you…

Thanks

Dai

 

 

It’s Soooo Nice.

Another 6 months have passed, well, almost. It is the end of my challenge, 2018 is now technically closed for me (from an event perspective that is!). This means reflection time again. 6 months ago I wrote a mid-way review post and I’m glad I did. I had to read it to recall everything that has happened and where my mind and thoughts were at 6 months ago.

Lets quickly recap on that first half of the year, January – April saw 4 marathons. 2 p.bs, a DNF and a wicked experience of rediscovering the enjoyment and fun I have in running. May and June saw the start of my ultras with 3 of them completed, including my first real taste of running in the mountains. You can read all the detail of those first 6 months in my review.

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Swag from the year – over 1,000km of events

Before I knew it July was here. This is when it started hotting up. Literally. What a glorious summer we had in the UK, and sure us runners moaned about it! It was always too hot. We were always dehydrated. We were always worried and concerned. Runners running early morning and late evenings just to avoid the sun. I couldn’t avoid the sun during the first of the ultras in the second half of the year. The Serpent Trail (not sure what’s happened to this blog!? it’s vanished!!) was an absolute scorcher, but great fun. Whilst the world cup was underway, I was busy running my first 100km of the year through the South Downs. It was an amazing route and well organised event but required some digging deep to carry on for 13 hours in the relentless heat. I compared this event to a Battle. That day I also met Ally whom I found out is my neighbor.

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Flying high on the Serpent Trail!

August was the big month. The first challenge in my path would be  return to the SVP100. Running with Ged and Chris and meeting many many people along the way. A fairly relaxed run (I had my mind on the next imminent challenge!) where I just wanted to ensure I didn’t get injured! One thing I learnt that weekend was not to use a room in a shared/lived in Airbnb. I felt uncomfortable. Most notable in my feelings from this race was the comparisons I drew to running the same event in 2017. It didn’t disappoint.

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Revisiting a race for the first time.

At the end of August it was the main event. Shortly after recovering from the SVP100 it was onto the big one. The CCC. The race that had come to dominate my calendar year. The one that filled me with fear and uncertainty but so much excitement at the same time. I prepped for this one. Whilst ultimately the year so far was ‘training’ for this purpose I also went out to the Alps to Recce the route before hand. Here’s a summary of that recce and also what I learnt from doing it.

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Final push…

Come the race itself, physically it was hard. Mentally it was challenging. I came through it so much faster and stronger than I’d planned. I earned the gilet that day. Despite having mixed feelings on the event I am so glad I ran it.

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A surreal experience

There was no stopping now. With very little time to rest, I was straight into the Berlin marathon. A different race entirely. Shorter distance, road, greater intensity. I hadn’t run a road race for 4 months since Helsinki (and that was a calm and calculated run at a consistent, easy pace). I didn’t know how I’d fare up. The ghost of Limassol still lingered. I took the pressure off myself. I had no real intentions for Berlin. Secretly I wanted the sub 3, but I wasn’t committed to attempting it here and now. Not so soon after the CCC anyway. That all changed when I started running that morning. Kipoche wasn’t the only breaking records that day. I made my own history with a life time membership into the Sub 3 hour club. That can never be undone.

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3hr marathon club membership

Three quarters of the year done. 3 races remaining! I’d achieved the goals I’d originally set out to achieve. I’d come through in pretty good condition. The big races of the CCC and Berlin had been conquered. Immediately I went into a sort of chilled mood. The next races were mere formalities in my mind. I didn’t care what happened as long as I finished and as long as I didn’t pick up any injuries.

Poland was the next destination in October. This was a very social occasion with 5 of us ‘Cool Cats’ heading out and running the 48km at the Lemkowyna Ultra Trail event. We met up with ‘Team Hot Tub’ from Sweden and dubbed ourselves team ‘Zeimniaki’ after discovering our love and inability to speak Polish. The run itself was not as expected as the mud gave way to glorious sunshine and dry terrain. I ran with (or rather near) Yvette for the full 6 hours and we picked up our amazing mugs and cowbell medals at the finish line. It was a great weekend. We also had a brief moment on Polish TV!

I did hit a bit of a low-point (mentally) during September and October. The build up of all the races had raised my expectations. A sort of anti-climax was reached and a little bit of me felt unfulfilled despite my achievements. My motivation and desire had dropped and I didn’t run as much in September and October as a result (still clocking >100 mile months though!). I felt a little lethargic and out of shape (I didn’t alter my diet in anyway and produced a lovely pot-belly as a result!). The calf/hamstring issue I felt out in Poland persisted and I was too stubborn to do anything about it (and still am!). I did however set my mind on re-building myself from November onward. Using those last two races to trigger the start of training for 2019. That was the plan anyway…

Poland was followed by a return to Wales. Brecon was calling once more, this time the 46 mile (2 loops) of the Brecon with Jon, Gif and Reka. Originally this was going to be Jon, Tommy and Kieron but sadly they both had to drop out in the weeks leading up to the event. We met up with Ged and ran together with as little pressure and maximum enjoyment possible. It was a great experience. We had a lot of fun that weekend and Jon secured his 4 UTMB points he set out to.

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What a great weekend!

I threw an extra spanner in the works during November when I (all too easily) was convinced by Ged to run a trial of a new ultra in between Brecon and Dorset. The Thames Bridges Ultra (TBU) is a 50 mile ultra along the Thames (crossing the bridges obviously) that would be run at night. How could I resist? It was free after all! What I didn’t consider was the implications of running 3 ultras in 2 weeks. I felt good on the night but soon tired. The exhaustion from Brecon came out. It was long, hard and flat. Ged had to pull out before the day, but Reka and Krysia provided much needed company through the night.

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The trail Twins!

The Dorset Coastal Trail Series was the final event for me. The end of my challenge. Another 46miles of trails and the first event I’d do on the coast. I signed up to this initially with Alex (who did the half). Later in the year, the WTR bunch got involved and so this also became a very social event. I only wish I’d studied the course before committing as, it involved a number of repetitive laps of the (very) hilly route! The weather on the day was verging on the extreme. Some emergency plans were instigated and route changes applied. Visibility was low as we fought not only the distance but the elements. A super hard run made easier with great company!

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Wild Trail Runners!

What else have I been up to?

Like the first 6 months of the year, the second half was full of other adventures and moments worth noting. So many in fact I don’t quite know where to begin nor what to really say about them! So here, as a reminder for me to look back on one day, are some other highlights from the year.

Lets start with the group training

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  • Never Stop London. This carried on into the year, although I attended less frequently. The community is buzzing (and has grown so much over the summer!) and my strength has definitely improved from all the leg cranks and focused training. I’ve no doubt it helped set me up for success in the Alps.

 

  • img_7744Wild Trail Runners – Towards the end of spring I started attending the hill sessions on Monday nights. Whilst not always motivated to go, or often aching from the weekend’s events, these have been a great opportunity to not only get some additional tailored training and hill sessions, but to become closer with a wicked bunch of runners and community.

 

  • IMG_3049London Burger Run – each month these continue and with a few exceptions I’ve been able to help pace one of the groups. These have also been a great opportunity to meet people and get more involved in the community, but also to learn about pacing and leading groups of runners. Above all the atmosphere is so relaxed and a great way to bring people of all abilities and aims together.

 

  • img_9081.jpgEvossi Explore Runs – another opportunity which came about over the summer was my involvement with Evossi (see below!) which led to some more run leader experience on runs in Richmond and South East London. A smaller, but growing community!

 

Run With Dai. These have continued. However they have been a little less structured (I count some of the times when I’ve run with others which might not have been planned that way!) and a little less frequent. My biggest challenge here has been maintaining not only interest (from others that is – I’m always open to running with you all!!), but freedom to do it whilst still training and travelling for all my events!

  • Run With Montane – this one was a particularly special Run With Dai though as it was the first I’ve done outside of London and which required an over night stop! Whilst there were other motives involved, it also served as a reminder of the past year and a moment of reflection. I’ve now committed to going further with this incentive and will one day make it to Scotland, Northern Ireland and even Germany for a ‘Run with Dai’!
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The Cheviots are something else!

Recce Runs – there have been a few occasions where I’ve done a run to prepare for another run! Usually recces of a run I’ll be leading, but the most notable one was a trip to the Alps to prepare for the CCC:

  • Recce with Yvette – Quite an adventure in itself, this was essentially a multi-stage ultra where we ran 80km over two days in the Alps. I learnt (see my post – ‘Knowing where you are going‘) a lot this trip and whilst I’d advocate doing similar, it isn’t always possible (costs, time etc.) to do before a big race. I certainly won’t be able to recce some of the races I’ve planned for 2019!
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High on the Alps checking out the CCC route!

 

Ambassador Roles – Here is something I didn’t expect. The later half of the year has seen me work with some exciting brands and engage with the running community a different way…

  • Evossi Explore – Being approached by Evossi was a very proud moment. Such an exciting brand that has big plans for establishing communities and bringing individuals together through running. I’m excited to be part of the team and thankful for the opportunity to be an ambassador and also to help with some of the Evossi Explore runs. Go check out their kit, some really smart designs and features!
  • Montane – This opportunity came about through chance and relationship building. It’s incredible to be able to work with one of the leading brands for trail running gear but also to be part of a community so focused on supporting the environment in which we play – you need to check out the work Montane do with their partnership with the BMC and their commitments to Corporate Social Responsibilities!
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Love this kit – The Fireball Verso by Montane!

Achieving my goals – When I started planning 2018 I associated goals to each of my races. There were some very specific targets (such as striving for a GFA time for the London Marathon) but also some less traditional goals in “having fun”, “not getting lost”. I’ve come through the year and achieved all I set out too and I couldn’t be happier. Naturally the two standout achievements were:

  • Achieving good for age (for London) – technically I did this twice – firstly in Malta way back in February, only for the goal posts to be subsequently moved! Secondly when breaking the 3 hour time in Berlin in September. A 3 hour marathon was never a goal for the year but it very quickly became a possibility after a strong start to 2018. With my interests soon switching to trail rather than road, I’m grateful I’ve achieved this and don’t have to worry or think about trying ever again!
  • Conquering the CCC – I’ve never been more out of my depth and full of fear in my life! When I signed up to this race I had no idea what I was doing. Here I was on the back of two trail runs and suddenly I think I can run ultras in the Alps?! Rocking up to the start line among some impressive and prestigious company was nerve racking. I didn’t belong here I thought. I felt like a fraud and that I was winging it. However, over time the experience and exposure to trails prepared me for the adventure ahead. My goal was to survive and survive I did!

Blogging – clearly this has continued otherwise you wouldn’t be sitting here reading this now (I hope you are sitting here reading this now!). I guess I’ve found it quite cathartic and a useful way to process my thoughts, identifying how I can improve and adapt. But also it is serving my goal of recording all these memories and achievements in a sort of diary I can refer back to. It’s very personal for me and I’m pleased so many of you do read my mumbles! Also, being nominated for the the best ‘personal blog’ category in the UK Running Awards is an absolute jaw dropper! (not sure if you heard, had I mention it?! go on, if you want to you can vote for me by following this link and find “RunWithDai” in the nominees. Thanks!). I have my sister to thank for that one!

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What did I learn

  • Race tactics – I’m still figuring this all out. Taking the pressure off yourself is the greatest tactic I’ve learnt so far (besides finding what works for you and trusting how you feel!). Find a way to create your freedom and feed your enjoyment. Berlin was the example. I felt good and strong throughout. I remember so much of the day and ran it consistently. Besides the result, I really enjoyed the run as I felt under no pressure to perform.
  • Leading/running – I’ve still very much to learn here and my confidence needs building. Perhaps I’m too relaxed, I want people to enjoy, not to be dictated at. I’ve now sampled it though, look out in 2019 for the many many runs I end to plan!
  • Social media – I’ve mixed feelings here. Let’s be blunt, it is a cesspool at times. So much negativity and pressure to be a certain way. But, it is so out done by all the wonderful people in supportive running community. There’s a lot of inspiration out there. Just take the experience of social media with a pinch of salt and don’t compare yourself!
  • The People – Running with others is so much more enjoyable than running solo. I used to be a lone-wolf when running. I rarely run alone now and I’m smiling so much more as a result.
  • Challenge – I don’t push myself and I underestimate my abilities. I know this. I don’t know why I don’t try harder. Maybe there’s an element of fear and an element of just being content with where I am. I’ll ride it out though. If and when that changes, I’ll be ready. I’m not going to force anything.
  • Fear – Fear of injury is still there. I’m not unique. All athletes and people involved in sports must have this deep lasting fear of not being able to do the things you love most. I’ve learnt to just accept and be conscious of this.
  • Support – The support is phenomenal. Friends. Family. Strangers. Everyone has been so great and supportive to me. For that I am truly grateful.
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Running is better shared!

What hasn’t changed

  • Diet & Nutrition – I might be determined, but I’m also weak and have very little will power. Put something tasty and sugary in front of me and the greedy bastard inside will take it all. When I crave something, I get it. I still need to learn and introduce some control in this aspect of my life. If I ever have desires to improve and compete then I’ll need to address my diet and self control!
  • Stretching and training is all still crap – I run when I want and stretch only when I can be bothered. The beauty of running so many events is that the time between is mostly for recovery (well, in theory). My basic fitness and capability is not only there but constantly maintained. The Wild Trail running on a Monday has become the only structured and routined aspect of my training!
  • Anxiety – I’m still nervous and anxious. Yep, over 16 events this year and I’m still not used to it. The days leading up to an event can be very stressful for me. I’ve identified the main parts that freak me out are the logistics (getting to and from the event) and the actual expo/race registration part. Yes the wait at the start line is also a time of being anxious, but as soon as I’m running I am free from worry. Never mind the social side of it and meeting people!
  • Stubbornness – I’m still stubborn. I do it my way. My approach works for me and I am happy with that. Whilst I think of myself as easy going, If I want something (a certain flight, a certain race, whatever) then I pursue it with stubbornness. Running through so many injuries and not accepting rest into my approach is the perfect example. But this is associated to my FOMO…
  • FOMO – I still do too much. The reason being is I have the FOMO. Every time I see a challenge that someone else is doing, has done or which looks great. Then I want some. I find it hard to say no. Very hard.
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I don’t want to miss out on the fun!

So looking back, wow. I’m surprised myself at what I’ve done this year. It grew completely out of control in the most amazing way. I’ve done things I’ve never thought I would. I’ve come out of my comfort zone on so many occasions. I’ve made new friends and memories that I will cherish forever. I’ve essentially begun the most amazing mid-life crisis! Some people buy cars or have affairs, I’ve discovered running! I hope this crisis never ends!

My biggest take away though is the people. The community. This is the sort of wanky statement I don’t feel comfortable with, but it’s so true for my year. Look around my blogs and reviews and whom I now spend my free time with… the vast majority of the these people I refer to I didn’t know 12 months ago. I’ve found so much inspiration and support from these people. I have so much appreciation for them and am in awe of their successes too. It’s certainly helped build this love of running I have! This is something I want to celebrate some how. I will find a way!

But what now? Where do I go from here? Good news is that I haven’t stopped thinking or planning. In fact the foundations of a plan are already there. The commitments are made. 2019 is going to be even bigger as I take Montane’s strap-line personally and go Further, Faster! Here we go again….Watch this space, but for now time to put the feet up and chill (from events that is!).

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I don’t think I’ll reach this level of relaxation though!

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I’ve been nominated for the personal blog category with the Running Awards. I’d love your support and votes. If you like what you read and you’d like to vote for me you can click this link and find “RunWithDai” in the nominees. Thanks!

CTS – Dorset

December. Before I know it, it was December. It has come around quickly. This would be my last race of the year. The final event in my race calendar. 1st December would mark the date I’d complete my challenge. Originally persuaded by Jack and Alex (that dude who went blue in the face Brighton) to come to their neck of the woods and hit the trails. I couldn’t resist and went for the longest option (the Ultra ‘plus’). After booking earlier in the year, a group of the Wild Trail Runners then also signed up to some of the various distances on offer so I tagged along for the journey. This is great as I’ve come to love running such events with others. Not just the run itself but the lead up, day before and things you do post run which are all better celebrated together.

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The Jurassic Coast. Dorset

I’m going to keep this one pretty short and as a straight forward review of the race. Partly because I’m tired. My mind is still wired and my body aching. Secondly, as you’ll soon read, the day was pretty grim and there’s probably not a lot to say about the course and hours that went past!

Leading up to the event I was on the back of two previous ultras (Brecon and TBU). This was number 3 in 15 days. I was heading into the run tired and a little complacent. My mind wasn’t focused (and truthfully hasn’t been since Berlin). Evident in the amount of fathing I did packing my bag the night before – Rocking up at the race I didn’t use the bag drop but left some stuff in Maggie’s car. Later realising I’d brought bugger all else and not even spare shorts or trousers for afterwards!

Arriving at the start in the morning it was indeed pretty grim. We’d seen the weather forecasts and event updates in the days preceding the start and they didn’t disappoint. It was cold. It was very windy and it was hammering down with rain. We registered and huddled in the tent and listened to the race briefing. Shivering. The would be a diverted route today due to the high winds and a part of the coastal path would be avoided. We didn’t realise at the time that this would lead to a slight increase in the distance. First out where the Ultra and Ultra plus (yep, it’s a thing for Endurance Life) Runners.

Along with Kirsty, Tamas and Weronica I was doing the Ultra plus. The route would be a figure of 8 along the coast, then repeating the first half of the figure of 8 and then repeating a smaller loop of the first half of the figure of 8. Got it? Yeah, as a route that sounds as boring as it was. As the race director acknowledged, we’d see the ‘one mile to go’ sign 3 times before it applied to us. Great. Tagging in to the start/finish each time would be a test of our will power to continue!

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Cold, wet but upbeat!

We huddled for a group picture and were then sent off, out to do battle with nature. The route first took us up the steps towards Durdle Door. These were some long steps. Everyone was walking. No one was talking. We were all hiding inside our waterproofs. Hoods on, heads buried into our chests. The rain and wind was relentless. Visibility was close to non-existent. Durdle Door was there somewhere. You just couldn’t see it.

After this section was the diversion. We carried on climbing the second incline and found ourselves running through some very muddy fields. There was plenty of space but runners sliding all over the place. Again maybe just a few metres visible ahead. We were soaked through. Wet feet was going to be a stand out memory of the day! It wouldn’t make a difference that I wore my S-LAB ultras that had a hole in them!

The good thing about the lack of visibility was that you couldn’t see what was coming up or how far you’d come. You’d just plod on. That might make the second lap easier!! We passed a few checkpoints, a nice section through a woodland and were back running through the muddy fields in the opposite direction. I hadn’t realised how much of the course we’d run back along. It was only after passing Maggie, Daniel and Matt who were starting out on their Marathon journey (they’d complete the initial figure of 8 route).

First loop done, now came the really big climbs. A few hours had passed and the morning had started to brighten up a little. As we climbed, the cliffs were visible. The white chalk glistening in the gloomy day. The climbs came thick and fast. And they were big. Lunging up steps and, at times, using your hands to grab at the land in front of your face. Each summit presenting new views to savour.

Along the coast I was amused as we ran along side a military training facility. The constant warnings to ‘keep out’ and ‘danger’ were a reminder of the area we were in. But soon the route would take us to the other side of the fence and it felt we were now running in the danger zone.

Looping back at the tip of the ‘8’ the route took us onto one of the hardest parts of the course. A field of mud. Really really muddy soft ground. On an incline. The snake of runners immediate slowed. We weren’t walking. We were sludging and sliding our way through. Eventually emerging the other side to more of the same. A cabbage field. Equally muddy and even steeper. This whole section was a drain on the energy. At the top runners were pulling each other up the final inclines. It was all quite amusing, but tiring and I was glad we wouldn’t be coming back here later!

Sometime later we were back at the coastal paths and joined by the half marathoners and 10km runners. I didn’t realise we’d run those cliffs again and sure they felt steeper this time around. One in particular was really tough and took quite some time to over come. As I powered up we passed a guy being slid down the hill by some helpers. He looked in a bad place. Adam, one of the Wild TR coaches was one of those helping.

We arrived back at the starting point to complete the first figure of 8. I was ready for a rest. With the diversion we’d just done a little over a marathon distance. I knew Kirsty wasn’t far behind me as we’d been passing each other over the last few hours. As I sipped back coke and some (many) and jelly babies she arrived. We were both so glad to see each other and agreed to keep each other company for the next half of the race. The wind and rain made the day quite miserable so far and the lift from company was needed.

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It had stopped raining at least and I decided I needed to re-jig my kit. I no longer wanted to run in my waterproof jacket so removed it to go with the t-shirt and arm warmer combo. I was soaked through from sweat as well as rain. I feared I’d be instantly cold but hoped the wind would sort of dry me out (it did). As I was changing Amy (Alex’s wife appeared). Alex was on the half and expected quite soon into the finish. Then as we were talking, Paul appeared. I’d been speaking to Paul for quite some time but we hadn’t yet met. I didn’t expect to see him as he was contemplating not doing the half as he was running the Hurtwood50 the next day.

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It was visible on the second passing only. Durdle Door.

Time was up. Time to head back out and climb those hills again. First off those steps! Immediately I felt better having Kirsty about. The afternoon also cleared up as we reached Durdle door so we had some views to absorb. We stopped to take some pictures and make those memories before carrying on. Unlike the first loop, there was a lot more walking this time round. But still enjoyable. The volunteers and the checkpoints were full of energy and encouragement and we joked our way through. Passing all the muddy fields before the brief stint along the paved roads and the forest paths (which were stunning now the mist had moved on). Emerging into a field we could see the steep decline down to the second checkpoint at the bottom. We set off but could see a very muddy section half way down which we joked about. As I hit it I immediately slid and did my best ice skating impression as my arms waved about and I spun 180 degree to look back up at the top of the hill and a runner behind me laughing. A good save. Or so I thought. As I continued behind the runner I stacked it. My legs slid forward out from under me and I sat straight down into the mud. Squishy. We all laughed. At least I picked the softest place to fall!! I wiped mud on my face to mark the occasion. The ladies at the check point laughed and greeted me as I arrived, they’d seen the whole thing.

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Moments later the darkness descended

We ploughed on, retracing the route towards the start again. Darkness descended upon us quickly in the overcast sky and we needed to stop to get the torches out. As frustrating as this was, it was certainly the right decision. It was hard enough to see and stay stable in the light! The quick reshuffle of kit though did unbalance my packed kit. I planned to fix this when we reached the start – about 2 miles to go.

As we arrived back at the start, I took time to change my clothes, putting on a long sleeved layer and using my windproof jacket as padding in the bag. It all worked well. It took me far to long to do though, I’d kept Kirsty waiting for what felt like an eternity! But I was eventually ready. Back out we went. Time for those steps and inclines yet again.

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Finisher. Fresh with Warpaint

No surprise, this final 10km was tough. Obviously we knew now we’d finish now as we’d left the comfort of the start. But we were exhausted and walked/run our way around. No sights to see this anymore. Just the few metres lit up by our head torches. Pretty uneventful this time round, we just persevered. Getting over those hills and through the mud. That sign ‘one mile to go’ came into view and our mood picked up. We would’t have to pass it again. This time it was for us! We ran. We kept running. We could hear the hustle of the camp not too far away and plodded down the final stretch into the finish line. Medals and pictures received. We were done.

Shortly after finishing, Maggie and Yvette arrived in the car to collect us and soon after that Weronica arrived too. Time to head home to shower and eat!!

 

 


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I’ve been nominated for the personal blog category with the Running Awards. I’d love your support and votes. If you like what you read and you’d like to vote for me you can click this link and find “RunWithDai” in the nominees. Thanks!

Dynasties: Runners

Help me out a little here – Imagine reading this one in a David Attenborough-esque narrative, with a Welsh twang of course…

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Since life began on this nature-rich planet we call home, a sub-group of the human species have sought out the endorphin rush of adventure, exploring their habitat on foot. These humans, known as ‘Runners’ have been seen exploring the concrete jungles of their city homes and often, now in increasing numbers, are seen venturing further a field into the wilderness of the countryside.

In this episode we follow one particular pack of (trail) runners and recount their journey as they seek their thrills in the Countryside of the Brecon Beacons.

Pre-dawn and the runners are rising. Rubbing their eyes whilst eating porridge, the morning rituals begin. Caffeine is consumed and hydration tabs passed among each other as survival kits are checked and race numbers attached.

In the quiet community of Talybont-on-Usk the runners, in numbers reaching 250 convene in the village hall. An annual pilgrimage will soon begin where these runners set off on a journey of self-discovery and adventure in the National Park. A race director inducts the runners into today’s challenge before the runners start gathering in the nearby field to begin their journey – one which will take them over and around the Brecon Beacons National Park. This epic adventure will see the runners climb to exquisite viewpoints, traverse through forested woodlands and cross streams before returning to the sanctuary of the village hall basecamp. Whilst alone this presents a significant challenge to push these runners to the limits of their physical and mental boundaries, on this occasion they will venture back out to complete the 23 mile loop for a second time. An adventure of ultra proportions and one bestrewed with dangers and obstacles to be overcome.

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The ‘Pack’ ready to be released

As dawn breaks, the runners are released from the safety of the basecamp and they begin their journey, their quest for adventure and ultimate safe return to the camp before succumbing to the challenges ahead. The initial route takes the runners, in their large numbers, along the Monmouthshire & Brecon canal towards Llangynidr. Passing the  Llangynidr Locks, the atmosphere is jovial as the collective mass of runners form into single line formations as they jostle for space. Their legs heavy from sleep they shuffle in line, greeting each other with pleasantries and enthusiasm for the trail.

Within a short time the collective begins to disperse and spread out. Packs and teams of runners compete among themselves and the others around them. Some runners decide to ‘go it alone’. Typically The faster, stronger runners. They might be fearful of the rumored challenges laying await in the night, or seeking personal dominance in a show physical supremacy. Either way, they risk it all to finish earlier than those around them. Such runners standout in the collective through their professionalism and determination strewn faces. Built like gazelles they are seen briefly in the very early parts of an adventure before vanishing into the wild. Later on they are recognisable by the often gaunt look of exhaustion that accompanies their remarkable achievements.

Other runners in the collective opt for the tactic of strength in numbers. They Form ‘packs’ with other like-minded runners where they will show solidarity and support each other through the obstacles of the journey. Often heard before seen, these runners are most visible at viewpoints and aid stations and recognisable from their readily accessible phones and abundance of selfie poses stuck.

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‘Pack’ mentality, cameras at the ready

The runners turn off the canal path just before Llangynidr and the journey up to Tor Y Foel – the highest point on the loop at ~1,700ft – begins. The runners enter the lush green fields and are greeted by the docile stares from herds of sheep and cows. No particular concern for most of the runners as long as the stares remain just that. If undisturbed, the runners can cross the fields unobstructed. Fear however can cause a stampede of livestock and the pack hope that the runner Gif will get through the fields unaffected. As the path starts to incline, the runners choose their survival tactic. Some jogging on at pace, others embracing the ‘walk the hills’ approach. Our pack take the later and the cameras are soon out snapping pictures of the morning mist.

Up ahead their view is obstructed. Visibility is low, wind is howling, covering the pack with a fine spray of the morning rain. The runners soon become damp with the fast-moving mist. They trudge onward into the unknown. Uncovering just a few meters of the trail at a time. One minute warm and the next minute cold, they struggle to adapt to the changing climate as the effort levels increase. Ensuring their body temperatures remain comfortable is critical to their survival.

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Early in the morning, visibility was poor

The climb is an opportunity for further interaction between the pack and with other runners around them. Jokes are traded and stories exchanged. Before they know it they have reached the summit and can begin the descent towards the reservoir. One runner known simply as ‘Ged’ comments on the beautiful Welsh scenery, comparing it to the steamy view he can achieve in the shower back in his man-made shelter.

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Later in the afternoon the Reservoir was revealed in all its glory

Atop the summit, the down hill begins and the runners break out into a run. This is the prime characteristic of runners – a faster, flowing synchronised movement of the feet which differentiates them from other human forms. The collective disperse further as runners bound over the wet boggy land at different speeds. The pack stay together, finding a communal pace they can all enjoy. Off in the distance to their right they can vaguely see the vast storage of water that is the Talybont Reservoir, shrouded in the mist. Alongside the reservoir, the pack will embark on the journey along the long path of the ‘Fire Track’. Before the trek begins, one runner – Dai – sneaks to relieve themselves against a man-made stone structure known as a wall. Returning to the pack he moans of wet feet incurred through stepping in a bog. A natural obstacle so often catching out runners in need of relief. With wet feet he continues alongside his pack, conscious not to stray far from the safety of the pack again.

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The long, lonely path of the ‘Fire Track’

The fire track is a long gravel road gently climbing alongside the reservoir. It is a mental challenge for runners who endure it. Wide, lonely and everlasting into the horizon the runners have to continue exposed to the elements and unsure as to what lays ahead. A decision faces them as they contemplate whether they should run whilst they can or preserve energy for the challenges further on? Our pack decide to run whilst they can. A classic runners tact to focus on the ‘now’ rather than the ‘later’ and to “bank some miles” whilst they feel good.

The fire track comes to an end near Blaen Y Glyn, like much of the first loop, Organisers and marshals are present along the course to help ensure runners are steered in the right direction, preparing them for their challenges ahead with a fighting chance of survival. They direct the runners towards the next section where the will follow the route along side the water station near the Lower Neuadd Reservoir. From here the runners could venture left and up to to the peaks of Corn Du and Pen Y Fan. On this adventure though it is straight. Straight up towards ‘The Gap’ between the peaks of Cribyn and Fan Y Big.

Up ahead the runners encounter  a hoard of the ‘hiker’. Another human variant, the hiker is similar to the runner in many ways. They are however often found in groups of large, slow moving numbers. To the runner this can cause a blockade that needs navigating. The Pack need to be swift footed to find a route through these friendly hoards, being careful not to cause them trouble or disruption as they pass.

The path is again long and straight and the pack can see runners dotted ahead rising into the distance. The negative mental effect this could have is combated by the morning mist leaving the ground and the sky clearing. With optimistic smiles the pack continue onward, putting distance between themselves and the hikers, all is not safe though as the track is formed of loose rocks waiting to trip and injured the runners. The pact decide it best to walk the incline,  recuperating some energy as they go.

Here, at the second summit, the pack are rewarded with unfiltered sunshine raining down on the sacred land around them. Before their eyes lies ‘The Gap’. A vast valley formed deep between the peaks of Cribyn and Fan Y Big. Paths winding off into the distance beyond the sun’s reach. For a moment they stop, breathing in the fresh valley air and assessing the land in front of them. They begin their decent – down along the Gap  on to the trails to the towards the villages of Cantref and Llanfrynach.

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The Gap

As the terrain continues, rocky underfoot, the pack pick up the pace. The gravity induced run raises the energy levels of the runners and whoops and cheers can be heard echoing around them as the bound onward. Fleet-footed they choose their path wisely and leap the streams of water washing over the well trodden track. There’s no avoiding the cool wet mountain chill on their feet as they splash their way through. A short mile or so ahead lays one of the great wonders of the running community – an aid station.

‘Dabbing’ in at the checkpoint the runners confirm their safe arrival. Tracked by the organisers, their safety is not taken lightly. Water and refreshments are served and the pack joke with the race ‘volunteers’ – an incredibly supportive form of runner, donating their time as a gift to support and encouragement runners on their journeys. “See you later Butt!” Lingers in the air as the runners set off on they next installment of the adventure. The next time they stop will be in the sanctuary of the basecamp…

First though, more treacherous challenges are thrust before the runners and which the pack must overcome. Upon leaving the aid station the runners are thrown straight back into a single line formation as they navigate the overgrown, rocky ground that might form a natural stream under adverse weather conditions. The runner by the name of ‘Jon’ takes the lead, guiding the pack through the seemingly never ending track. Legs are stretched as they straddle the banks and hop from rock to rock, their limbs scratched at by thorny foliage. Before they can reach the end they are tested once more when a cry of “Bike!!” is heard from behind.

A more dominant, faster sub-group of humans is racing down the track in the direction of the pack. The pack speed up with the end of the path looming in sight. But it is too late. As the bikers, on their mechanical contraptions are hurtling towards them, the pack have no choice but to move to the side and throw themselves deep into the foliage to avoid a near-fatal collision. In this desolate land, assistance and recovery would not come quickly. Passing the pack safely the bikers continue. But ahead of them, Jon is still chasing that glimmer of freedom and light at the end of the overgrown tunnel. With moments to spare he makes it unscathed and the bikers continue off out of sight.

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Freedom from the rocky paths and escaping the hoard of bikers

Pleased with their escape the runners continue but are then greeted with a short run along a trail runners nemesis – a paved road. Vast man-made formations, roads litter the natural landscape like tribalistic markings. Designed for speed and mass transportation they can cause all manner of injuries to runners. Navigating the roads, the tarmac bends through the village of Llanfrynach, where a sole local-supporter offers another restbite for runners with fuel and support. Shortly after which the paved road once again gives way to a welcomed return to the lush green fields of Brecon.

This is not the end of the runner’s dilemmas though when, after overcoming many other man made torture devices – the sty – the runners follow a course marking in the wrong direction. The sense of urgency on a trail is heighten. More so that, if it wasn’t for the eagle-eyed Reka spotting the path into the fields, the runners might already be lost to the endless pain of the paved road. The risk of going wrong, getting lost and expending unnecessary energy is too great so Jon calls the pack to a halt. A moment of democratic discussion sees the pack  retrace their steps a few meters to inspect the signage and opt for a different path out of the fields. The right path. Runners know only to well to trust their gut feeling.

Crossing a river stream the runners again emerge onto another paved road leading to the next village of Pencelli. They slow to a walk and swear with other runners as they pass. Soon, the road should again join the Monmouthshire & Brecon Canal path, the final stretch into the basecamp. Eventually in the distance a hi-vis yellow arrow directs the runners over a bridge. The canal has been reached. The end of the lap is within their grasp.

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Familiar sight of the canal path

Dai, spurred on by the sense of familiarity (he has traveled this path before – Brecon trail), breaks into a run. He knows where he is going and just how long it is. His confidence is high. He sees lone runners scattered in the distance and picks them off one by one with greetings of support to each he passes. Soon he sees the turn into camp but he grinds to a halt as a familiar voice calls out “there he is!”. Up-ahead two bobble-headed supporters wave and cheer. Kelly and Fudgie are supporting one of their own and cheering the other runners into camp. The greatest strength of a runner is the support from within the community and other runners bringing energy and joy to them. It works. They stop for a chat and wait a few moments whilst the rest of the pack fall in. Goodbyes are said and the pack head into the base camp sanctuary. Just under 5 hours elapsed. Time for sausage rolls and coke.

Rejuvenated with fresh supplies the pack head back out with their kit adapted for the second passing. Alas they emerge not empty handed. They take with them offerings to pay back the supporters for their sacrifices and giving up their time to be on a cold and lonely path all day. Sweets and brownies deposited to Kelly and Fudgie. The pack start the journey all over again.

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A cow watching the adventure unfold

Second time out the conditions have changed. The path is the same and the runners have boosted confidence in knowing what is in store. Now they also have light on their side. As Jon proclaims “daylight is underestimated”. They are not alone though and more wildlife is also enjoying the sun’s rays. Dai takes time to interact with some cows watching the adventure unfold before he hastily returning to the pack. They run the canal back to the beginning of the climb to Pen Y Foel. A climb this time they can see in all is magnificence.

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The glory of the mountains in the afternoon sunshine

What nature gives with one hand though, it slaps the runners with the other. With the clear visibility of the the afternoon, comes the torment of seeing the monumental challenge of the mountain ahead. Whilst they’ve summited once before, now they are tired and aching. They can see Pen Y Foel in the distance. Way off in the distance. As they hike it once more, this time it drains them. The runner Ged is prepared. He has brought poles. Like a modern day archer he unleashes them from his back and hikes on. Or at least that was the intention. He has all the poise of a clumsy Star Wars AT-AT wobbling from side to side. His frustrations grow. But to the enjoyment of the pack. The summit is overcome through laughter and piss-taking. A runner’s secret weapon.

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AT-AT

A moment up top this time offers another chance for the runners to rest. Unlike the early misty morning, the clear panoramic views are there to be absorbed. The pack take it all in. The cameras are out and they dance around the (quite possibly least impressive) summit stone. The enjoyment continues down towards the Talybont Reservoir where it is this time revealed in all its glory.

A few rarely seen Locals line the entrance to the fire track offering support to the runners. No doubt veterans of these paths themselves, they laugh with the pack and send them on. This time the pack walk-run the length of the fire track, stopping momentarily to interact with other runners and some more of the hikers they encounter. Unseen in the morning, the colours of the trees and woodlands below them flicker in the sunshine and light reflects of the reservoir behind them. The track is overcome with no casualties and they progress back onto the rocky climb to the next summit. Already half way through the second loop they are optimistic about the final quarter of the challenge.

But they are not ill-prepared. They know their greatest challenge is yet to come. A danger they cannot avoid nor out run. One which they must endure and be at their most alert for it will test them to their limits. The darkness.

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The shadows beginning to take hold of the gap

The runners had been aware of this danger since before they left camp in the morning. But now, as the hours pass by, it has quickly become a reality as the sun begins to set behind the Welsh mountains. Soon the pack will be entering the The Gap where the sun’s reach will diminish to nothing. They have less than an hour of daylight remaining before the darkness will come. Whilst the trail runner is adapt at running in the dark, they are vulnerable to its energy. More than ever before on the run they are aware of their surroundings which soon they will no longer be able to see. Led by Jon the pack treks up to the summit. Unlike the first passing it seems to take far longer this time around but they persevere. They have made it to The Gap in time and can once again begin their descent. This time their descent is impeded as the rocky terrain is wetter than before and the danger of slipping has increased. A fall here could end the adventure and leave the runners exposed to the elements of the night. They descend with less haste than earlier in the day before picking up their pace as they hit the grassy stretch just before the final aid station.

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Cautiously descending the rocky, wet path

Inside the recognisable volunteer faces greet the pack and help them with water and cakes. A cookie dough brownie is a favourite which the pack feast on before being released back out onto the track with their head torches accessible. The darkness setting upon them is imminent and they are conscious of the single narrow track of the river bed to which they now need to navigate. Whilst there are no bikers this time, the pack once again find themselves in a race through the foliage tunnel as they try to emerge injury free before the darkness completely devours them. They narrowly achieve their goal and emerge onto the road into pitch black of the night. Darkness is here.

The lap has felt longer this time around and is taking its toll on the pack. They are drained of energy and longing for the safe arrival at the basecamp. With darkness now here to stay, they walk on into their next challenge. As darkness lingers around them, the dangers change. The course has become quieter and runners are now at their loneliest. The marshals had, but for a few, all retreated to the safety of their homes or the sanctuary of the basecamp and very few locals are seen outside. Along with the humans the animals have also sought safe shelter from the elements. Darkness would bring exquisite views to follow a beautiful sunset. But with the orange burn of last rays of light succumbing to the night, new dangers await. Dangers that are are more psychological and which will toil with the runner’s tiring mental strength. In these parts the runners are aware of the nocturnal predator that is the Talybont Nun.

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The Sun sets over the Brecon Beacons

Rumours from the villagers report of the mythical Talybont Nun who feeds off the fear and depleting energy of runners. The stories tell of runners who go missing at night and the uncertain implications of being “touched by the Talybont Nun”.  No runner is certain. No runner can escape the clutches of the Talybont Nun. No runner is safe at night.

In these isolated villages a network of locals provide warning signs to support each other through times of darkness. Visible signs are there to warn those out at night. The runners know how to recognise and interpret these signs, the most prominent of which is the dim orange glow which signifies a reported sighting of the Nun – an orange light in their window  warns that the Nun has been seen in the area and to take extra care, to seek safe refuge before it is too late.

The pack continue. Aware of the rumours. Aware of the occasional orange light shinning out at them. They are together. They are strong. they huddle closer as they run to improve their chances of survival. No runner wants to be alone at the back, likely to be the one touched by the Talybont Nun.

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Head torches at the ready

The runners need to see in the darkness and their head torches are out, bobbing away and brightly lighting up the paths ahead. A necessity to their safety, but a contradiction all the same. The light will alert the Talybont Nun and guide it to their location. They have to keep moving. Keep on their feet and hope they can reach the goal before the Nun makes a showing. They are tired now, exhausted from hours on their feet. The risks are increasing and chances of survival balance on a knife edge. Now is not the time to slow.

The pack rely on their kit. Technical advances in fabrication have enabled them to increase their chances of survival through carefully selected attire. But each garment comes at a cost, like the torches, the reflective materials used on the kit can act like a flare in the night when caught by the glow of a head lamp, a risk they must take, hoping that the reflective material does not alert the nun to their location.

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Beware the Talybont Nun

Up ahead the pack spot reflections coming back to them from the kit of other lone runners. They head after them, chasing them down one by one. An ideal addition to their pack, not always as a friend but sometimes as a sacrificial runner that can be offered to the Talybont Nun to increase the pack’s chance of survival. If it shows, the Nun can be distracted with its ‘fear-harvesting’ from the sacrificial runner, offering a chance for the pack to flee ahead to safety. This ruthless instinct for survival pushes them on as, with runners behind them, for a moment the tension reaches critical levels – the runners pass a sign for the Village of Pencelli, and  Llanfeigan Church, the known origin of the Talybont Nun, if ever a sighting was likely it was now.

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Pure darkness on the canal path

Leaving the other runners behind them the pack reach the Canal path once again. The greatest risk of all is the isolated loneliness of the canal path at night. 2 miles of darkness and no where to escape. A single direction onward to safety. No turning back. To one side a canal that would consume them if they were to fall, behind them, somewhere the Talybont Nun lurks. This is an all or nothing moment as the runners pick up the pace and start racing off after their medals. The pack break into a sprint as they sense the end is near. In the distance the cowbells of safety ring out to mark the safe return of another runner, welcomed to the warmth and sanctuary of the finish.

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Safety of the finish

The Pack’s time has come. The bells ring out. On this adventure our pack have not been taken by the Talybont Nun. They dab into the finish line where warm flames flicker from a fire and they are awarded with hot food, clothing and a medal of protection. The runners retreat to a pub. For this group they survive, to run another day. Many other runners and packs remain out on the dark course, a DNF looming, their fate as yet unknown….

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Sanctuary

 

* Note. The myth of the Talybont Nun is just that. A myth. Orange glows from cottage windows are most likely coming from families enjoying a bit of Ant & Dec on a Saturday night. No nuns were touched in the making of this adventure and the race organisers have confirmed the safety of each runner.

 


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Why it’s OK not to be unique

 

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It’s OK to travel a path travelled before

Ever get that feeling of deja vu? You’ve been here before. You’ve felt this way before. You’ve seen this somewhere. You meet the same faces, visit the same places, run the same races… With the onslaught of social media, the mass popularity of running, social groups and the sudden accessibility of running it’s easy to feel that you have to stand out from the inevitable comparisons. More than ever before there is pressure that you have to be different. That originality, and even being extreme in someway, is necessary. It’s not. I don’t think so anyway. It’s OK to travel a path that’s been travelled before, to do the same thing and experience the same feelings. It’s OK not to be unique.

Running is running. The motion is the same. The mentality is often the same. The people we share it with are usually the same. The places we go are also similar… We go there be cause they are EPIC. We should feel inspired by the experiences of other’s to go and visit and run these places, these races. No matter how far or how close they are. We should also want to experience it.

The feelings you will feel are the same. The runners ‘high’. The comedowns after the achievements. Those moments where you want to stop, give it all up, never run again. Those times when you don’t feel you are progressing as you think you should. It’s all OK. We all all experience that. You’re not alone. None of us are ‘super human’, despite our achievements.

The goals and motivations we set ourselves are likely to be similar too. Personal bests, furthest distance, run a certain event, get fit, get fitter, lose the weight, improve your mental state etc. All in someway a goal of achievement and possibly self-validation, proving that you can, sticking the middle finger up to the doubters. Taking yourself on a journey and transformation be it visible or not. These aren’t unique. They are however specific to each of us and personal. We shouldn’t be afraid nor need to justify our goals to other people or feel worried that other people are running for the same reasons and therefore we ‘can’t’.

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No matter which direction you take, your goals are your own

The memories and recollections will be shared. We meet up with others. We take pictures. We all share them. We’ve all your own perspective on what it means to us individually, what it represents and how it made us feel. But it’s the same specific memory. You can’t change that. It’s OK that social media is inundated with the same picture for everyone who was involved in creating it. Moments shared are the best kind!

Many of us runners write too. So what about writing? Same thing. Race reviews, they’ll be similar. It’s the same race. Perspectives won’t vary that greatly unless there is an incident. The route, the conditions. They aren’t unique to you. Your experience is though. Mind you, those experiences and feelings over multiple events might well be similar (again unless there is an incident?). What makes one 5km race different from the next? What makes one’s attitude and motivations during one marathon different from the next? Not a lot. I don’t think so anyway. I write about my participation in endurance races. It’s easy for me to recap over a short period of time. My memory is sharp and there will be a finite number of things to recall. When Running long distances though your thoughts wander. You are distracted. I find I hit an almost hypnotic trance-like state where I’m just moving. Trying to remember the specifics over say a 12 hour period is tough. I recall the same thing I’ve felt many times before – ” I felt good”, “I felt tired”, “the hill was a bastard”, “ooh nice tree”, “I’m hungry”, “I spoke to someone about running”. Very little makes such a written review different than what’s been written before. But again, it’s specific to you. And that’s important. It’s you and your experience. Your enjoyment.

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This sign has nothing to do with anything. But I am hungry.

For me that is why it’s OK to not be unique. We are not, and should not be, in competition. Certainly not a popularity contest. It’s OK to just enjoy and revel in the process you go through, whatever that process is. Let’s not add more pressure to what is already a very demanding pastime. Running isn’t easy. Let’s not make it harder by sucking the fun out of it!

Be you, you don’t have to go hunting for something unique to stand out. IT IS OK to travel a path that’s been travelled before, to do the same thing and experience the same feelings. It really is OK not to be unique.

 


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Ziemniaki

The Lemkowyna Ultra Trail (LUT) is a Polish running event set in and around the Beskid mountain range of South East Poland. Lemkowyna is in its 5th year and has a series of events with races at 30km, 48km, 70km, 100km and 150km. The  150km race being a ‘discovery’ race on the prestigious Ultra-Trail World Tour UTWT.

Through her various trail running contacts Jana ran the 30km Lemko trail in 2017 and dragged (far too easily) a few of us out to Poland for the weekend to run the 48km ‘marathon’ this year. One of the biggest selling points for me to join the adventure (other than filling my October ‘event’ and running with friends of course!) was the race tagline “enjoy the mudness”. Apparently it would be a very, very muddy event. Awesome. Let’s kick start the winter running season with some grotty fun!

After months of waiting, it was time. Myself, Jana, Yvette, Daisy and Clair were heading out to Poland for the weekend. Logistically it was a flight into Rzeszow and a taxi transfer to the town of Krosno. From here we’d be able to get the organised LUT buses to the start of the race in Iwonicz-Zdroj and also back from the finish line at Komancza.

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Team Cool Cats go shopping

Leading up to the weekend I was relaxed. Far too relaxed. There are probably numerous reasons for this. Firstly it was convenient to leave all the worries to Jana as the only fluent Polish speaker in the group (sorry and thanks Jana!! – Jana did try to teach us all the necessary pleasantries, however I was only able to grasp a single word “Ziemniaki”). Secondly, I’ve achieved everything I wanted to this year. I’ve come through my biggest challenges unscathed and smiling. I’ve 3 events left to tackle and had already switched to planning 2019. These races are now about enjoyment, experience and maintenance ready for what 2019 can bring. On top of that I am carrying a bit of an injury. I don’t know what exactly but I’m aware of some discomfort. I thought it was my calf. Now I think it’s my hamstring. Either way I still wanted to run but not too push it.

Unfortunately Clair was also injured so had to switch to cheer squad duties for the weekend. Yvette was a little apprehensive about the run (there is a tight 8 hour time limit on the course) so I imposed myself and insisted I’d run with her throughout so that she wasn’t alone.

After settling in at the accommodation and having a good nights sleep, we were up early to make it to the ‘shakeout run’ before registration. The shakeout run was led by Marcin Swierc who won the TDS this year in a gripping finale. Very impressive! A brief jog along some local trails before he put us through a series of challenging stretches and body exercises before we returned for a complimentary breakfast. The breakfast spread put on by the organisers was full of local made sausages, breads, cheeses and jams. We were in heaven. After which we had an impromptu interview with the media channel supporting the race. I’m still not completely sure what was asked and what we responded despite Jana’s translations!

After the morning’s activities we met up with Michal (who stayed with us in Chamonix during the CCC and whom recently finished 6th at Ultra Tour Monte Rosa!!). Michal was here with Team Vindberg (or “team Hot Tub” as I liked to call them) after claiming a podium finish at the 48km LUT last year. We went off for some ice cream and a walk around Krosno whilst we waited for race registration to open.

Race registration was straightforward and efficient with a check of all the mandatory kit list in exchange for the bib number and tracker. Oddly, despite a cut off time of 6pm the mandatory kit list includes equipment like head torches and back lights but no waterproofs or layered clothing. Odd, but rules are rules and there is no doubt a logic behind it. It did feel odd having such a lightweight kit bag! All checked in we posed for some pre-race pictures and made our way to a restaurant for some pierogis. I do love Polish dumplings!! We followed this up with a chilled evening drinking 2% Radler beers like the crazies we are. We know how to party!

The next morning was a breeze as the race wouldn’t start till 10am. So no early wake up call in Poland. Awesome. Fed and packed we eased through the bus ride, checked our drop bags in and were in the race pen ready and waiting. The 150km, 100km and 70km runners were already well underway and many 70k participants were at the aid station where we were starting in Iwonicz-Zdroj. It was good to cheer them through but I felt anxiety for them knowing any minute we’d be stampeding after them, surrounding them with our fresh energy.

Krzysztof, the race director (Jana’s friend at Lemkowyna), pulled us forward (with Jana’s help) to the front to get people focused and ready. He gave the mandatory race briefing at the countdown began. 10am. Race underway. Within seconds Jana vanished from sight and disappeared into the distance!

The initial part of the course ran through the town as we sought out the beginning of the trail. Within just a few kilometres we were climbing the first of what I’d describe as the 3 “small” inclines of the route. Besides this there would be one big-bastard climb and plenty of rolling hills along the way. As we climbed we were greeted with loud voices from a group of men positioned halfway up the hill. Music pumping and bottles(!) of something no doubt alcoholic being drunk, they were in for a good time!

Now what I haven’t already alluded to was the weather this weekend. In fact, as to how much we were sweating! We came in the search of mud. We were ready to ‘enjoy the mudness’. However, we were presented with a 20+ degrees (C) beautiful summer’s weekend. There would be very little mud. The layers had been swapped the night before for short shorts and a vest! As we climbed the sweat only increased. But what goes up must come down and soon we did.

Here came my first surprise of the day. The terrain. The ground was very uneven and rocky. The climbs were tough and the downs were harder. Much concentration was needed to ensure a strong footing in the jagged stones and dusty trails. So much so I removed my sunglasses to help focus. This was going to be quite a painful run for the feet I decided. The second surprise followed soon after with a delightful warning of bears in the woods. hhhmmm.

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Don’t look, keep running!

Throughout the day we were never alone. Plenty of runners from our event and also the 70km event mixing and running together. At one point the route took us onto a road that was still in the process of being re-surfaced. The ground was sticky with tar and you could feel the heat coming from the ground. This was a new experience!! I stuck with, or near, Yvette for the first 10 miles and we soon came across the first aid station at around 18km. Here we met Sarah from team ‘hot tub’ who was readying herself for an assault on the 30km race which would soon be starting.

We filled our bottles and bellies (chocolate and biscuits for me!!) and set off again. I checked my watch (I still only run with current and average pace showing – this gives a huge sense of being free from pressure and not thinking about distance nor time!). We’d covered the 10 miles or so in just under the two hours. This was great progress. I told Yvette how well she was doing, to not worry nor thinking about the 8 hour cut off but instead make her realise a sub 6 hour was a real possibility!!

Onwards we went. Upwards. The big-bastard was immediately after the aid station and was about 800m or so of climbing steadily over several kilometres. I lost sight of Yvette somewhere over this climb but carried on knowing she wouldn’t be far behind. I was in my own bubble at this point. I was a little concerned as I could feel my leg (this is were I became conscious that it was more likely my hamstring and not my calf) but I was Smiling. Enjoying. The hills were stunning. All around us the trees were turning red and brown but the sun was shinning brightly. As you climbed higher and higher the unobstructed views into the distance became more and more impressive. This was a side to Poland I’ve not seen before. It really is beautiful out there. I plodded along with a smile on my face, absorbing it all and cheering the runners who’d pass me along the way. After about 15 or 16 miles Sarah cane zooming passed with a huge smile and cheered me on. She was third lady in the 30km LUT and looking very strong. She was gone before I knew it.

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Exceptional views from the LUT

There was a long section on top of the hills which was very pleasant, out in the open sunshine. I was a little worried I’d get sun burnt now! I had a brief moment of distraction talking to a Polish lady (Agata) who lives in Devon. She too powered off into the distance as I walked the little hills happily. I met her again at the finish and found she finished 4th lady in the 30km LUT, narrowly missing the podium by under a minute! I hope this wasn’t down to talking to me!!

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Get ready for the descent!

Next up was the down that inevitably follows the up – Over a very short distance we’d descend the 800m or so back down. This was rapid with gravity taking you probably faster than you’d like. I was again very conscious of my footing as, although the ground was softy and grassy it was riddled with lumps and cambers. Immediately at the bottom the next aid station awaited.

I briefly checked the time, 2pm. We were still on for that sub 6 if we wanted it. I just had to wait for Yvette to show. I filled the ten mins or so eating. Lots of orange slices, biscuits and chocolate and a load of flat coke. It was so flat. Perfect. The volunteers here were excellent and incredibly helpful and I joked around with one lady who was drenching people with cold water whilst I waited. The volunteers throughout were absolutely fantastic and help make this a special event! After about 10 mins or so Yvette showed up and it was her turn to stock up and refresh.

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Going Strong

As we walked up the last of the “little hills” Yvette confirmed she was in a good place mentally and physically. The steep rocky down hills were taking its toll on her ankles (she’s had previous injuries there) but she was good. The last third of the race went by in a blur. We wondered if Clair had been able to find a way to get to the finish (it’s in the middle of nowhere with limited transport and she had no confirmed way of getting back either!) and if Daisy and Jana would have finished by now. For a while we interchanged places with a mixed group of other runners from our race, the 70km and the 30km. But we were consistent and comfortable. So comfortable that I inadvertently found some of the mud. Despite the weather, pockets of the course were still very muddy. I can see how, with a little rain, the whole course would become so much more difficult to run. But, throughout the course you were easily able to navigate around or jump the muddy patches. Lost in my own thoughts though I was no longer thinking or focusing and I ran straight through a muddy seduction. I was immersed to my ankles and almost lost my trainers as I pulled through! I cheered myself and laughed. No harm. A pain to clean at some point but I had come for the mud after all!! As a result, I ran through all the mud I could for what remained of the trail. Why not huh?!

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I found the mud!!

I was deep in enjoyment now and amused myself with a little game as we ran through some forested areas. As the seasons were changing, the trees were ripe with autumnal colours and leaves were falling. All around us in the tranquillity of the forest there was not a sound other than the foot strikes on the ground and the leaves rustling through the trees branches as they fell and floated to the ground. You could see them falling all around and the shadows they’d make. I made it my game to catch them as I passed. I managed it just once.

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Scenes from the forest trails

As we neared the end of the trail we knew there would be a few km on the road to run to the finish. We soon hit this and it was an ever so gradual incline. Yvette was stitching but carried on. I figured we had maybe two miles at most left to cover. I was a few hundred yards ahead of here and kept stopping to see if she was coming. But then, out of nowhere a sign saying ‘finish 350m’ appeared. What? This was too soon. I looked back. Yvette was there. So I legged it. I ran in to finish the race. Rounding the corner where the cheers from Daisy, Clair and Jana could be heard. I screamed “ziemniaki” (that one word I could remember) and passed the line. Moments later Yvette skipped in past me to finish too. We finished around 6 hrs and 4 mins. Amazing. If I’d known the finish was so close I would have pushed us to break that hour mark! Still, it proves Yvette is a far stronger runner than she gives herself confidence for, smashing the cut off she was concerned by with 2 hours to spare!

Race done we were treated with our favourite 2% Radler beer and snacks from Clair (who’d clearly made it!) and admired our amazing ‘cowbell’ medals. The organisers had arranged food (great food!!) for runners and we sat and chatted about our races and experience.

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How good is this medal and mug!!

As the night started to draw in we had a brief ‘wet wipe wash’ in the river (the showers were cold and the changing area was a bit chaotic) and made our way into the main tent ready for awards and live music. We’d planned to stay for the entertainment and get the 9pm bus back to Krosno anyway, but we had even more reason too now – Daisy had finished 3rd lady in the 48km and Sarah second lady in the 30km. We gave them a great reception as they collected their incredible awards and huge amount of sponsored gifts for the podium finishers. In an amazingly thoughtful touch, Krzysztof (the race director) invited Jana onto the stage to thank her and give her the honour of presenting Daisy (and the 48km lady podium finishers) with their awards in recognition of her support to the Lemkoywna. After all the awards there was also a chance to recognise and applaud some of the many volunteers whom received a very well deserved standing ovation.

It was an amazing finish to an amazing weekend that was all about the support and camaraderie of each other! Something tells me this won’t be the last time I go to this event!! The people, the organisation, the food, everything we encountered during our time in Poland was special!

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I’ve been nominated for the personal blog category with the Running Awards. I’d love your support and votes. If you like what you read and you’d like to vote for me you can click this link and find “RunWithDai” in the nominees. Thanks!